30 April 2013 – The United Arab Emirates (UAE) confirmed its commitment to Africa with the recent opening of a 15 MW solar photovoltaic (PV) plant in Mauritania. The plant cost almost US$32 million to build.

More recognised as a major hub for international trade, the UAE has over the years supported economic and growth projects in developing countries. In that respect, The Sheikh Zayed solar power plant, as the new PV plant in Mauritania is called, fits in.

The renewable energy company Masdar, based in the UAE emirate of Abu Dhabi, launched the facility located near to Mauritania’s capital Nouakchott, a city of around 700,000 people. The power plant will provide 10% of the country’s energy capacity and will displace approximately 21,225 tonnes of carbon dioxide annually.

Mauritania’s electricity grid, which is powered mostly by expensive diesel generators, currently has an installed capacity of only 144 MW, resulting in severe energy shortages. With energy demand increasing by 12% annually, the addition of solar power will help meet future electricity shortfalls and supply the energy demand of about 10,000 homes.

The plant, which consists of 29,826 micromorph thin-film panels, was built using innovative and sustainable construction practices. In particular, project engineers designed the support structure for the PV modules to be piled into the ground instead of using a concrete foundation, which reduced the project’s carbon footprint and cost.

During the inauguration of the solar plant, Mauritania president Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz described energy access as a pathway to economic and social opportunity. “Electrification, through sustainable sources of energy, is critical in ensuring our people have access to basic services and is a step toward improving our infrastructure and long-term economic development.”

Dr Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber, CEO of Masdar, said, “For more than 40 years, the UAE has remained steadfast in its commitment to helping developing countries achieve their economic potential. Today, as the UAE and Masdar help countries realise their ambitions of developing critical energy infrastructure, we are finding important new ways to assist the global community in achieving sustainable development.”

With strong solar and wind energy resources, Mauritania has the potential to derive a significant portion of its electricity capacity from clean, sustainable and reliable sources of energy. Its wind energy potential alone is almost four times its annual energy demand.

Al Jaber added, “Renewable energy has the potential to be a major contributor to the energy mix in developing countries where access to conventional energy is limited. With energy demand expected to nearly double by 2030, renewable energy will play an increasingly important role, especially in countries where demand is rapidly outstripping supply.”